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Realizing hoop dream won't erase Marion Jones' fraudulent past

December 1, 2009 |  1:43 pm


I would like to wish Marion Jones well in her attempt to play pro basketball, which she made public Monday. 

And I will, as soon as she tells the entire truth about her years of doping in track and field.

Jones has admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs only in a relatively brief period (2000 and part of 2001) of the career that made her the biggest star in the sport.  She also claimed not to have known the nature of what she was taking until 2003. 

Given her spectacular results in 1998 and 1999, the limited scope of that admission seems implausible at best, especially for someone squeezed into finally confessing her doping because she had trapped herself with a lie to federal agents about her role in a bank fraud case.

Jones' admission recalls the question my colleague Jere Longman of the New York Times asked Tonya Harding when the figure skater held a news conference in Norway after being allowed to compete in the 1994 Olympics despite her apparent role in the attack on rival Nancy Kerrigan.

"You lied to us about your smoking.  You lied to the FBI.  You've failed a polygraph test. So why should we believe anything you say?'' Longman said to Harding.

(Harding would plead guilty to hindering the investigation of the attack a week before a grand jury said she had planned it with ex-husband Jeff Gillooly.)

Monday, Jones told New York Times columnist William Rhoden that her critical lapse from truthfulness involved the "20-30 seconds" when she decided to lie to federal investigators about both her role in the fraud case and her use of performance-enhancing drugs.

What about all the years before that when Jones lied to the world by insisting she had never taken the drugs?  All part of the same, big falsehood, for sure, but also evidence of someone skilled at lying.  The judge who sentenced her to the maximum recommended by prosecutors said he had doubts about whether Jones had revealed the extent of her doping.

Her return to a sports career, which Jones said she would like to begin with a basketball team in Europe, will lead to dozens of stories re-examining her past.

To get the focus mostly back on the present, Jones needs to deal with the lingering questions about her past.

The only way is full disclosure.

If she does that, I will be among the many who hope she can realize the implausible hoop dream of starting a WNBA career at age 34.

Jones has done time (six months) for her crimes, and she is free to try to reinvent herself however she wants.  And we will see the efforts, since  director John Singleton --  "Boyz n the Hood"  --  is documenting them for one of the ESPN "30 for 30" films.  Singleton told TV critics in June his treatment of Jones would not be "candy-coated'' but also admitted to being angry that Jones had paid a bigger price than other dopers.

It should be noted she also made millions of dollars more than the others as a result of the doping.  Even if those riches apparently are long gone, like the five 2000 Olympic medals (three gold) stripped from her by the International Olympic Committee, Jones profited handsomely from deceit bespeaking a pathological liar. 

And no matter what happens, no matter what forces are being mobilized to turn her story into one of redemption, no matter how much more she reveals to Singleton, the truth is Marion Jones will have always been a fraud.

-- Philip Hersh

Photo: Marion Jones after her Jan. 11, 2008, sentencing to six months in prison for lying to federal agents. Credit: Associated Press